Latest Oil-Based Catastrophe Shaping Up in California

by | May 12, 2010

Even as the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is washing ashore in Louisiana, another oil-based catastrophe is shaping up in California. Opponents of CA’s landmark global warming legislation AB32 – led by Texas oil giant Valero and other out-of-state oil interests – recently spent nearly $2 million dollars in a successful bid to put an initiative on the November ballot that would suspend AB32 from taking effect.

The so-called “California Jobs Initiative” would effectively kill the bill by requiring unemployment in the state to drop below 5.5% for 4 consecutive quarters before being implemented – historically low unemployment levels that are utterly unrealistic in the current economy. Supporters of the bill argue that climate change legislation will cost the state too much in a time of recession. The irony, of course, is that while investing in a cleaner economy is not at all what caused this recession, it is our best hope for getting out of it.

To pit the economy against the environment is a false choice that misses two underlying realities. First, the economy is wholly dependent on the environment: without clean air, fresh water and healthy soil, there would be no economy. And the cost of repairing and replacing these basic services is far higher than the cost of preserving them in the first place, as we are just beginning to witness with the impending collapse of a multi-billion dollar fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Second, clean and green technologies are not a burden on the economy – they are the key to economic growth and job creation. And while it will take an investment to reap these rewards, that cost will be much smaller than the costs of sticking to our current system. The choice this November is not between creating jobs or losing jobs – but about shifting to better jobs. As the recent tragic deaths of coal miners, power plant workers, and offshore oil riggers reminds us, no paycheck is worth a human life.

Legislation requiring cleaner cars, better lighting, and building-efficiency standards will spur industry and create jobs that don’t involve high risk and horrible fatalities. Transitioning to local, renewable sources of power will create a much more stable energy market – something businesses everywhere depend on. Increasing the efficiency of homes and businesses is the most cost-effective way to offset rising energy costs. As a Californian, I have seen what it means to be dependent on foreign sources of power during both the Oil Embargo and Enron scandals. Making our own clean power instead of buying dirty power from the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mexico will also help business by keeping more of the dollars we spend on energy right here in California. And this, of course, is a major reason that Valero, and other out-of-state energy companies are funding opposition to the bill.

But there is more at stake here than just the energy market in California alone. The reason that national energy companies and anti-tax groups have rallied against AB32 is because California is a bellwether for the nation on environmental regulation. As we’ve heard repeatedly since the Deep Horizon spill in the Gulf, it was the Santa Barbara oil spill forty years ago that started the national environmental movement. More recently, it was California’s successful suit against the EPA over stricter fuel emissions standards, that preceded the Obama administration increasing national fuel-efficiency standards.

California is also a bellwether for technology. Remember that solar panels and modern wind turbines were developed right here in California. When Reagan took the panels off the White House and ushered in the age of the SUV, those industries – and the jobs and revenue they created – went to Europe and Asia. The only way to get those jobs back now is to do it again. Retaking our lead as the world’s best innovators is a much safer path to economic growth, energy security, and environmental health than “Drill, Baby Drill.”

Right now, California’s universities, laboratories and green tech entrepreneurs are creating the energy and communication technologies of tomorrow. Electric car makers Coda, and BYD (“Build Your Dream”) both announced recently they are opening factories in Los Angeles to capitalize on California’s commitment to clean tech innovation. We must enforce these commitments in order to create more good jobs, not abandon our principles in the face of high unemployment.

Because regardless of what happens in California, the world is quickly going about the business of transitioning toward more sustainable ways of producing and consuming energy. We all know fossil fuels are becoming scarcer, more costly, and more environmentally damaging to produce.

And this is the real reason the oil giants are fighting AB32: because clean, green growth is the future, not only for California, but for the nation, and the world. So it makes sense that the people fighting this change the hardest are the ones making record profits by keeping us hooked on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels.
And there’s an irony in this as well, because there is lots of money to be made in the new energy economy – and they know it. Remember that BP was attempting to rebrand as “Beyond Petroleum” before Deepwater Horizon left us all “Bathing in Petroleum.” Even Republican supporters of offshore drilling and nuclear power have adopted an “all of the above” approach to energy, because it is clear that efficiency and renewables are here to stay.

Unfortunately, unless we provide strong legislation to the contrary, fossil-fuel companies will keep mining, drilling, burning and polluting before they make any meaningful investment in cleaner forms of power. Inevitably, this also means that further deadly and costly accidents are only a matter of time.

So the choice facing California – and the nation – is whether to pass laws which make the fossil-fuel industry use its wealth and technology to help build a cleaner, safer future for all of us, or to let them use their money and influence to confuse the issues, buy elections and keep stalling. The choice is ours.

Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. He is the Education Director for West Coast Green, and an adviser to New Leaf America, UrbanGreen, Adam Capital and others.

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